Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Food & Wine Pairing Extraordinaire

Living here in Napa (Yountville) there are certain extreme luxuries that are abound that you realize you will either rarely or never be able to experience. Whether it be the Napa Valley Wine Auction, Mustard Festival private winemaker dinners, Auberge du Soleil, CIA/Greystone, Screaming Eagle wine, etc., or, for purposes of this post, the French Laundry (FL) restaurant.

When we first rolled in to Yountville a year ago, home of several great restaurants including the aforementioned, my wife had always heard how amazing this experience was. Given the nature of fine French dining, I was not overwhelmingly excited about it at many levels. My response to her was always the same, "OK, when we win the lottery, I'll take you there." FYI, dinners there regularly run $500+ per person and a $50 per bottle corkage fee. Little did I know, one of the benefits of living in Yountville was that once a year, they hold a 'lottery' for all residents to be able to dine at the FL at the original opening (1989) prices of $49 per person and waived corkage fees for your own wines. Cut to the chase...we won the drawing and went to our scheduled locals' night this past Monday night.

For any of those that have either had the experience there or know much about it, it is ranked as one of the top-10 restaurants in the world and under the guidance of renowned chef Thomas Keller. It's been known for several innovations in food presentation along with as many as 22 courses or more in a single seating lasting over 4 hours. Although, from its subdued exterior, it is quite the unassuming place tucked in the northern part of town in an old wooden 'house' of sorts. Ours was an abbreviated night with only a dozen courses or so lasting about 3 hours total. I came prepared and was going to "milk" it for all its worth even at the $49 price.

I began, of course, by planning my series of wines for the night. Not knowing the exact items being served or when, I took a bit of logical approach in how French dining of this sort usually plays out. I decided to go with safe bets in this order - Rose Champagne, Dry Riesling, and a vintage Bordeaux. This built in enough flexibility for various dishes while at the same time giving me the range I wanted to have a fulfilling night of wines.

Here's my reasoning: Bubbles always work to begin the night sipping as an appertif to get the taste buds going and with most intro-type leading appetizers. Riesling is most versatile with French foods that are rich, creamy or savory and/or with shellfish. And, Bordeaux would be perfect if they serve some sort of lamb or savory pork dish as the main. If fish was one of the mains, the Riesling would sub very well also.

So here's the brief summary of how it went down:

Overall, the place is quite small and fairly unassuming. The grounds are pleasant and nicely landscaped with a quaint courtyard area that is a good place to start with the Champagne. Nothing fancy to sit on either...older cushioned wooden chairs. There is no bar area inside and they do not serve hard alcohol at all. We had our Rose Champagne as our appertif and waited for our table. Couldn't help but think I should be 'twittering' the moment.

Once inside, I was surprised once again at the simplicity of the decor and the surroundings. One small room of 6-7 tables for the main dining and a couple of smaller rooms upstairs. It quickly became clear that this was going to be about the service experience and the food presentations.

The Rose Champagne took us through the first couple of courses before we opened a dry Alsace Riesling with one of their signature dishes - the truffle custard egg. This is an egg (gutted shell) that is cut open at the top 1/4 and filled with some of the most decadent infused truffle custard drizzled with truffle oil that rivaled (OK, exceeded) any Foie Gras I've ever had.

Then we had their version of a "caesar salad" that was a small lobster tail with a lemon infused butter cream along side a compressed seared romaine lettuce bundle (all of 2 inches big). Luckily, our neighbor table was friends of ours and they shared their own sauvignon blanc with us that made a perfect pair for the dish. On to the main courses...

By this time, we had gotten to red wine territory and the '85 Lynch Bages Bordeaux I brought was finally unveiled. It had been decanting in the back room for over two hours by now and it has been a while since I was that excited about a wine from my cellar. With the upcoming pork and lamb dishes, I knew I had made the right choice.

The most appropriate pairing was the lamb as they had orchestrated it in to 4 'bite-size' styles (loin, shank, chop & braised) within one plate. All worked harmoniously with the Bordeaux which definitely came alive with the food. Not sure if I know of too many better pairings all things considered.

The night ended with a concoction of cheeses and desserts that culminated in to an incredible selection of decadent chocolates and truffles to go with our 20-year tawny ports.

A total of almost four hours from our arrival not only was it "check please", but the proverbial wheel barrel was needed to get us out of there as we closed the place down. Not so much from the amount of food by any means, but just the overall saturation of the night. Needless to say, the next day was a bit rough.

Kudos to the entire Laundry team and their ability to make a normal setting outrageously special. Whatever you've heard, it is truly an experience of a lifetime. Now, at full prices...I'll get back to you on that.

Until the next sip...swirl ya' later.

James
Chief Wino

1 comment:

Dee Dee's Pages said...

Well said!
Not much I can add except that (we women like to know these details) the interior of the restaurant was as unassuming as the exterior...I even took a couple pictures of the bathroom b/c I believe that's always an interesting place...many lesser restaurants try to showcase their "uniqueness" in bathroom decor or technology (which I quite enjoy) but the Laundry sticks with its "less is more" concept even here: very basic and clean with one simple vase of assorted roses.Classy!